Freelance writer and poet from London; if you would like to read my poetry, please check out my book, 'Poems on the Page', available from goo.gl/Ta4oAX.
Can You Bear to Miss it?
All anyone needs in life are the bare necessities, but for arctophiles, what we're interested in are the bear necessities of life. Fortunately, if you live in London, finding them is not difficult. All it takes is a hop, skip, and jump on the tube to Kensington Town Hall. Of course, you have to time it right; bears are not going to be at your beck and call everyday of the year. Just two. These gatherings are organised by Hugglets, who grant access for a small fee of £4 per adult and £2 per child. Savvy bear hunters, however, will register with the Hugglets website to receive a catalogue containing two free tickets. These tickets are not just for entry, they also get put into a draw for the chance to win a £50 voucher for any Hugglets event.
But just when are these events you ask? Well, the next Teddies Winter Bear Fest will be held on the 26th February 2017. Doors are open from 10.30am – 4pm and anyone in the queue will get a free chocolate. When Mum and I went to Teddies 2016 last September, we arrived at 11am; no chocolates, but no queuing either.
Spread over three floors and across four halls, there is a lot to see. But there is no question as to where to start as Dot Bird sits outside the first hall before anyone else is seen. Dot is a healer who can repair injured bears born before the 1960s. If handing over your treasured teddy is a scary prospect, any fears will be allayed once your look through her catalogue of restored bears. It is incredible what she is able to do. If you think your bear has a terminal condition, think again. Dot does not have a website, but you can contact her by calling 01765 607131 or emailing email@example.com.
Younger bears that have been loved, perhaps a little too much by younger owners can also be restored to former glory. Bear It In Mind can be found in the basement and look after bears of any age. When I was there in September, they were taking in a new patient: Pink Panther.
Our Hugglets adventure started out a little differently from usual this visit because Mum had been in contact with Whittle Le Woods, who had posted preview pictures of some of their bears that would be at the show. Mum fell head-over-heels for both Toby and Rowan & Wabbit, so the artists, Irene and Mike Whittle agreed to reserve them until we got to the show. The moment we arrived, Mum made a beeline for Whittle Le Woods's stall, picked Rowan up and declared, 'He's mine.' It never takes us long to find a bear we like, but this is the first time we've made a purchase within the first thirty seconds of arriving. I easily understand why, though. Irene and Mike's bears have very gentle expressions, and the fact that they usually come carrying their own little companion makes them all the more endearing.
Meanwhile, I was attracted The Old Bear Comapny opposite. As you can guess by the name, they sell a large range of antique teddy bears and soft toys. The one I liked most was Rupert Bear, which although a bit tired looking, was instantly recognisable.
It was then time to visit our fantasy stall. I call Bisson Bears our fantasy stall because Gail Thornton makes gorgeous statement pieces, but at prices we could only ever fantasise about affording. She had some newly designed hares on display, which actually looked their best from the back. This is because you can then admire the amazing design of the hind legs/paws, on which the hares are standing on tippy-toes.
Sadly, a few of the stalls that we had previously liked visiting were not there this time, but that only means that there was new spot to be filled and we could discover some new artists, such as Ameli, a Latvian artist who hand-makes teddy bears out of natural fur and leather. Her designs look like the perfect bears to give as a wedding present. She also makes unique teddy bear-shaped backpacks.
At the adjacent table we moved from a very modern design to very Vintage Bears. at least in appearance. These bears are in far too good a condition to be that old. Rather, they are designed to look Victorian/Edwardian. As well as original characters, they also make character pieces, such as Gepetto and Pinocchio.
While most artists have very distinct designs, Gill Cattroll is much more varied in her style. I would not be able to say with certainty 'that's a Bower Birds Bear. Some of Gill's bears look vintage, while others are fluffy young'uns. The reason behind this is down to the different material she uses. Gill began as an interior designer, and out of this she was inspired to start designing bears using all the different kind of fabrics she could get her hands on: Welsh wool, mohair, and in the case of Bunny, silk velvet and French lace.
On the other hand, Frank Webster Originals does have a distinct style, even when using different materials. His small bears have very sweet faces that always capture my heart. He does occasionally branch out, however, as this time round he also had a much larger bear on display, wearing dungarees.
With all the designs on show, sometimes the thought of creating your own bear can be exciting. It is a lot of hard work, but the end result can be very satisfying. If you are interested in making your own bear, Mohair Bear Making Supplies has all the essentials required, including fabrics, cotter pins, pellets, and patterns.
Going one step further, a stallholder in the basement had invented what he calls the Lapdog Tray. Think of it as a very advanced TV dinner tray; it has a work surface and seventy-two compartments to hold tools, such as scissors, needles, miniature lamplights, etc. It can be used for any type of craft, be it bear-making, jewellery, drawing, and more.
Some bears that look like they could definitely do with an appointment with Dot Bird can be found amongst Daniel Agnew's collection. Daniel has had a lifelong passion for antique bears and toys. Between 2000 and 2007 he even ran Christie's famous teddy bear auctions. If you are looking for rare bears, then Daniel is the man to speak to. If he doesn't have what you want, he'll most likely be able to point you in the right direction. Bourton Bears will also be very helpful in this department. If you are interested in learning about the history of the bears on show, or indeed your own bears, then they will be able to help and increase your knowledge about antique bears and companies that made them.
Bears come in all shapes and sizes, but you won't quite grasp how small until you see Shoebutton Bears by Sue Wilkes. Made out of pipe cleaners, these bears are about an inch high and live in little woodland homes. They remind me a bit of Sylvanian Families, only much smaller.
Now, compare that to big daddy, Caretaker, by Charlie Bears, at a whopping forty-six inches. He definitely looks like he could take care of you.
As Mum and I came to the last stall of the first hall, our eyes widened at the sight a large bear in a woolly jumper. Bear Bits usually make realistic bears, but on this occasion, they had a very traditional teddy and it even had a growler. Given its price and the fact there was still a lot more to see, we decided to wait and see what else there was until we decided to buy him or not. That, and I was conflicted with several other bears that I was considering. One of which was Chi Chi, another Bear Bits creation. Much smaller, Chi Chi was a baby panda cub with magnetic paws and posable in all sorts of positions. Alas, when we returned, we had missed out on both of them by about ten minutes. Someone else was taking them home.
There are many animals aside from bears at the Teddies Festival. Rabbits and hares are usually the most prevalent, but last September there was also an explosion of doggy artists. A new dog artist on the block was Alice Wood, who makes her own patterns from drawings of each breed. JCW Bears & Furry Friends have been coming for a long time and make extremely realistic dogs. The reason they are so good? Well aside from exceptional talent, the award winning artist, Jacqui Wickenden, uses models of real dogs. Jacqui offers commissions to recreate your pet to astonishing accuracy.
Although collectable bears are not toys, you can still have fun with them. One of the ways to do this is to give your bears outfits. In some cases you can use old doll clothes, but I think it is nice to use clothing especially made for bears, generally because they are more likely to fit better. For example, many stallholders knit hats with ear holes, as well as scarves, jumpers and other accessories. Sometimes it can be hard to determine whether these will be the right size for your bear, so if you have a bear in mind that you want to dress, it might be an idea to take it with you so they can go in the changing rooms and try it on.
Another way to have fun with your bears is to give them a place to sit other than a shelf. There are two regular stallholders who make chairs for bears. Christopher sculpts chairs, benches, and stools from wood. They look beautiful, are of high quality, and very reasonably priced. Phyll's Bears Chairs are more elaborate, and for bears with luxurious taste as they are fully upholstered.
While some bears you buy because they are comforting and good for cuddles, there are some that are for the 'wow' factor. They are true display pieces that you just stare at in pure awe. Pic-Nic-Bears made me go 'wow'. Sculpted by a French artist, she had recreated King Louis III and Queen Anne of Austria in lion form, along with a foxy Cardinal Richelieu and his ratty guards.
Teddies Winter Bear Fest will provide far more than just the bear necessities of life; you will be spoilt for choice.